Military Gas Mask From Overseas on Saskatchewan Farm

September 21, 2017

Military Gas Mask From Overseas on Saskatchewan Farm

“If one perceptible function of poetry is to write place into existence, another of its functions is to unwrite it.” Seamus Heaney

I can frame the space
Where dad’s soldier’s gas mask was placed
Hung for years as a souvenir
On a wall in his farmyard workshop
But I had no frame of reference
As a child, a veteran’s son
To grasp what it possibly could mean
Ever to have needed one
Or why it had such value for dad
Like a pearl of great price
Discovered and hidden again
In a field he now owns
Giving the appearance of something nearly discarded
He kept asking us not to touch it
Even though as boys we would try it on for size
When he was on the field
Cultivating or seeding or combining
I couldn’t know then if it shaped his identity
As securely as the material from which it was made
Shaped his face
Or if he had a phantom feeling of it still
Like an amputee, a survivor
The war was no longer there
Except for an invisible presence
The mask dangling around his neck
A pendulum of uncertain times
With his sten gun over his shoulder
And his shovel behind his back
To dig slit trenches and fox holes
In the dirt and mud and clay
As protections from volleys of fire
And aerial bombardments
Years before it ever got hung
On the wooden granary wall
He had been a Canadian test subject
Suffield, Alberta, 1942
And had experience with chlorine gas
Even before he travelled safely overseas
Through waters threatened by U-boats and icebergs
Later, I would learn a poem about that mustard gas
“Gas boys, gas. An ecstasy
Of fumbling”
Though I was never clever enough
To connect that poem with a better understanding
Of my own father’s experience
Or draw me closer to him
All my childhood
This gas mask was right there on a wall
Part of a frame of a common wooden granary
Seasoned by decades of harvest
Now seconded for use as a tool shop
Repair shop, two by four floor well worn
From dad’s diligent attention to his work
The entire inside dark with oil, dirt, and metal filings
That small space held everything
Grinder, bearings, nails, bolts
Air compressor, oil cans,step ladders
Tools on the floor and bench and shelf
All with the smell of grease and grinding fumes
With just enough of a pathway
To maneuver all this valuable collection
Like the bees and flies weaving in
And out of this same space
This clutter that makes a jack-of-all trades independent
And successful on a family farm
Meanwhile the gas mask could always be seen
On the wall across from the doorway
As soon as you entered the building
If you were looking for it
And for years, until now, I had stopped
There it remained
Among the rakes and garden hoes and scythes
Practical technology of farm life
With the leather straps and breathing apparatus
Of the military gas mask
Not quite the look of a skull
Though anthropomorphic enough
To be dissimilar to a cattle skull
Or small animal heads we might find
In the bush
To the north of the yard
That brilliant windbreak
From bone-chilling winter storms
The mask silent and impractical
Among all this utility
Of civilian life
Its invisible value to dad
Worth more than any use it might still provide
It served its first reason for being years ago
Like the work of a tree’s green leaves
In that great care of life under the sun
Before an unutility emerges
In the changing of the colours
After the work is done
An ecstatic artistry in all that uselessness
Of autumn glory
“Things are transformed
Into that which cannot be grasped”
Writes Maurice Blanchot, “The Space of Literature”
I could not grasp the grasp
In which dad was held by the mask
Stronger now than any functional use
It might retain
“Out of use, beyond wear
They are not in our possession”
Of course, it was a part of dad’s belongings
A wartime souvenir, like the wooden Dutch shoes
And his 1939-1945 Star and Volunteer medal
Italy Star
From that era when he was a young man
With the Canadian Army in Italy
But also part of his emotional belongings
Like his startle reflex during thunder storms
And all that restlessness at night when he slept
About which only mom knew the details
Which is why she never put us into bed with him
When we were little
And had our own innocent bad dreams
“But they are the movement of dispossession
Which releases us both from them
And from ourselves”
He must have been happy to be free
Of any further need for it
Among the necessary clutter on a soldier’s body
Dispossessed of it after the final orders to disarm
When he began to learn to live
In a veteran’s body instead
In that epic mass return to life
During peacetime
He had no fear to need it ever again
Against mustard gas
The need of it was different now
A thanksgiving for survival
A remembrance of fellow soldiers,many
Who can only be visited now
By journeys to Commonwealth War Graves in Italy
Or by revisiting and re-membering memories of them
“I have no words to describe this
To someone who wasn’t there”
He used to say to us
The silent mask has begun to speak
When practical words are mute
Or from Blanchot, such a possibility
“Belongs neither to the day
Nor to the night
But is always spoken
Between night and day
And one single time speaks the truth
And leaves it unspoken”
Mom, a veteran’s wife
Harboured tenderly that untender pillow talk
In her own great care
To affirm the goodness of his humanity
In that life project known as a return
To self
And civilian life
After participating in what such a mask
Was needed for in the first place
And make possible the experience
Of more fruitful ecstasies
Marriage, family, owning his own land
For which he often longed
And did express, until his death
A word of thanks


Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) and Education

November 14, 2008

Who put the private in public education?

God is the source of human life.”  Pope Paul VI

The Catholic Church, “expert in humanity”, as Pope John Paul II described it, is rightly interested in education.  At marriage preparation and baptism, parents are reminded of their work to raise and to educate children.  There is a great tradition in Catholic education of defending both faith and reason.  The Church also has a vision for the proper use of education.

            Some trends in education give the impression that we are free to manipulate ourselves and our world in any direction we desire, for pleasure or for politics.  Catholic education offers a mature, cautionary voice of reason.  Motivated by obedience to God, we recognize “that there are some limits to the power of Man over his own body and over the natural operations of the body, which ought not to be transgressed.”  (Pope Paul VI, in Humanae vitae, Of Human Life)

Teachers and parents naturally want students and children to be obedient to their authority.  Governments naturally want citizens to be obedient to their authority.  The best guarantee of this acknowledgement of authority is for students, teachers, parents, governments alike to be obedient to God, to the “supremacy of God” as stated in the preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The first step is to side with faith over atheism.  The second step is to be obedient to our human nature rather than to use our education to fight it.

Students by definition are growing from immaturity to maturity.  As Pope Paul VI describes them, “human beings, especially the young, are so susceptible to temptation that they need to be encouraged to keep the moral law.”  Then, addressing parents and educators, he writes that it “is wrong to make it easy for them to violate this law.”  Faith often corrects education.  Privacy and relativism are two key principles of modern education.  By contrast, the Church teaches there is such a reality as objective truth, and that we are not alone in this world.  God is with us. 

While it is not easy in a culture of entitlement, the Church’s constant teaching is that we are not a million solitudes in this world.  Education remains, in it best tradition, concerned not with facilitating the disintegration of civilization, but with its improvement.  The Church is an essential tutor in the best use of all this education, and teachers are those “whose right and duty it is to be concerned about the common good.”

Fr. Jeffrey Stephaniuk

Abortion and the Ukrainian famine Holodomor 1932-1933

October 29, 2008


“Whatever else I may do or think in the future, I must never pretend that I haven’t seen this.” Malcolm Muggeridge, Winter in Moscow

Earlier in 2008 the Saskatchewan Government proclaimed a very unique act at the Legislature, The Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial Day Act.  Such a gesture is really appreciated by the Ukrainian community in Saskatchewan, Canada, and Ukraine.  There was a time when the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933, which claimed well over six million lives, was denied within Ukraine and the former Soviet Union. 

I remember an important event occurred in 1983 during the 50th anniversary of the famine.  I was living in Toronto at the time and attended the cinematic release of “Harvest of Despair”, a documentary on that event.  That same year I attended an event in Washington, D.C., at which we protested in front of the Soviet Embassy.  A great public affirmation of the truth of survivors’ claims about the famine came in the form of recognition by the United Nations, which the Saskatchewan Act refers to as a precedent for its decision:  Whereas the Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) of 1932-33 has been recognized by the United Nations and by the international community.” 

The Ukrainian word “Holodomor” means to kill by hunger, or to torture with hunger.” The historical event of the famine refers to the years when farmland was collectivized in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian farm family, which had a reputation for having a fair number of children, was destroyed.  It is estimated that the communists killed between seven and ten million people through this program.

The Act given assent by the Saskatchewan Government reads: “The fourth Saturday in November in each year is declared to be “Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial Day” for the purposes of recognizing the Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) of 1932-33 and of reflecting on the lessons to be learned from that event.” 

One of the lessons learned from the Ukrainian famine is that language and law were manipulated to de-humanize the Ukrainian farmer.  Once it was declared that the Ukrainian farmers were not human beings it became possible to justify their deaths through famine.  Philosophically, the famine is related to other horrors:  writers on the

Holocaust understand those events in a similar way, namely that Jews were proclaimed not to be human. 

In the novel, “Forever Flowing”, by Vasilii Grossman, the author speaks about the Holocaust and the Holodomor: “In order to massacre them, it was necessary to proclaim that kulaks are not human beings. Just as the Germans proclaimed that Jews are not human beings.”  A kulak, or kurkul, was a private farmer.  “They are kulaks, not human beings” formed part of the lexicon of the dark world that made the famine possible – which British journalist and pro-life author Malcolm Muggeridge, who was an eyewitness to the famine, referred to as a “macabre ballet.”

In our present culture, there are remarkable parallels with the thinking that makes abortion on demand possible.  Language and law have been manipulated to de-humanize the unborn child.  Where statistics bureaus registered deaths during the Holodmor as death not from famine but from “digestive ailment”, our statistics count late-term abortions as “stillbirths.”

            Thank you, Government of Saskatchewan, for the Famine Memorial Act.  An honest examination of the lessons learned brings us right back to our own day and age, and the horror of death by abortion.


Of Human Life, Humanae vitae 40th anniversary

October 11, 2008

“Life is a gift which is not completely at the disposal of the subject.”  Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 1 January, 2007.

I am dedicating the next two years to the anniversary of an incredible teaching document of the Catholic Church.  Written in 1968, its 40th anniversary will be commemorated in 2008.  I am referring to the papal encyclical, or letter, called “Humanae vitae,” a Latin phrase translated as “On Human Life.”  It was written by Pope Paul VI as an instruction on the church’s enduring teaching about what the generation of human life really means, and about the ghastly dangers of artificial contraception. 

It is a beautifully written and heartfelt document, prophetic in its warning that a contraceptive culture will develop lower and lower moral standards, certain in its judgment about the evils of artificial contraception, and eternally optimistic in the mercy of God for those anxious and repentant over past decisions to contracept., 

One of the principles of this document is that only God can create something out of nothing.  The Church is saddened by such statements as “my body, my choice” because it is a false statement, erroneous in its assumption that I have final decision over my life.  This statement is only a possibility in a culture of privacy, a relatively recent legal development that trumps natural and moral reality. 

The legal right to privacy has been invoked to defend contraception, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia, with no consideration for the very public consequences of these so-called private acts. 

Another principle of Humanae vitae is that faith tells us that human sexuality is a gift from God.  It is God’s will that husband and wife strengthen their relationship through their sexuality, and it is God’s will that they become cooperators with Him in the generation of new life.  Human life and one’s eternal soul begin at conception, and with natural family planning there is never a risk as with artificial contraception that a newly conceived human being is about to be destroyed. 

As the current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has written in his New Year’s message, the Church is “the sign and safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person” in the world.  In other words, it is the task of Christian leaders to remind us that our humanity in its nature and goal is greater than anything we ourselves can possibly imagine.  Here’s to a blessed preparation for the 40th anniversary of Humanae vitae. – Fr. Jeffrey D. Stephaniuk

Trial For Life Commemoration Review

September 9, 2008

At The Grave of Joe Borowski with two of his daughters

At The Grave of Joe Borowski with two of his daughters

There Are No Outsiders in the Family of God:  A Commemoration of the Late Joe Borowski



By Fr. Jeffrey Stephaniuk


In Wynyard, Saskatchewan during the weekend of September 5th and 6th, 2008 an event was held to commemorate the late Joe Borowski, a folk hero to the pro-life movement until his death in 1996.  In many ways he was an arch-rival to Henry Morgentaler in the race to convince the Supreme Court to either strengthen abortion laws or remove them.  The year 2008 is the 25th anniversary of the Trial for Life, initiated by Mr. Borowski and held in Regina in 1983.  A long-time friend of Mr. Borowski, historian Fr. Alphonse de Valk from Toronto, sent a letter of greeting to those gathered in Wynyard, describing the trial with these words: “it is the 25th anniversary of Joe’s greatest intellectual contribution to the defence of the unborn in Canada, namely his decision to marshal the best quality defence of medical, legal, and theological arguments available in order to explain the human nature of the unborn child. The fact that an ill-willed supreme Court of Canada ignored testimony delivered in the Regina courtroom in their haste to approve abortion on demand is to their everlasting shame.”

            Guest speaker, Andras Tahn, currently Executive Director of St. Therese Catholic College of Faith and Mission in Bruno, Saskatchewan ( presented a talk entitled, “There Are No Outsiders in the Family of God”.  He spoke about being an eyewitness to the Trial for Life in Regina in 1983, at which expert medical and scientific witnesses were called to have read into the court documents the fact that human life begins at conception (fertilization).  Dr. Jerome Lejeune was one of those expert witnesses.  From Paris, France, he discovered the cause of Down Syndrome.  The life of each individual new human being, he repeated often in the course of examination and cross-examination, “begins at the instant that all the necessary and sufficient information is combined in order to define the new being.  That is right from the beginning.” 

After his death in 1994, a Cause of Canonization was initiated on his behalf.  Quotes such as the following can also be read in his testimony: “If, and I hope God will never permit that – the Pope was saying that abortion was killing nobody, I would stop being a Catholic for scientific reasons, because no moral authority can make me believe that discarding an early human being is not discarding a human being.”

Our second guest speaker was Mr. Ted Byfield from Edmonton.  A revered journalist and publisher, Mr. Byfield is currently working on the Christian History Project (  His presentation asked the question, “How did we get to this predicament?”  He traced the influence of education reformer John Dewey and his effect on divorcing the new generation from the values of the previous generation while marginalizing the concept of right and wrong.  He also spoke to the concept of sexual revolution:  when men free themselves from responsibilities to women it leads to pornography; when women free themselves from the responsibilities associated with sexuality, similarly insisting on a consequence-free sex life, they do so under the guise of liberating themselves from men, though in reality it is the children who are punished through abortion.  It is possible to add the scenario of contraception in this explanation as well. 

Mr. Byfield also commented on the current federal election campaign, with a message that since the federal Conservatives assume that they have the vote of social conservatives, we need to tell them if they have gone too far in their efforts to compromise for the sake of political gain.

One of the other letters of greetings presented in Wynyard was from Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada.  As the Pope’s Ambassador stated, “Let the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI’s words during his recent pastoral visit to the United States, be a source of encouragement and inspiration: “May you find the courage to proclaim Christ, ‘The same, yesterday, and today and for ever’ and the unchanging truths that set us free!  They are the truths which alone can guarantee respect for the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world – including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother’s womb.”

Video clips of the commemoration of the late Joe Borowski on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Trial for Life can be viewed at by searching for “Ted Byfield” and “Joe Borowski Commemoration.”


Thank you.

Fr. Jeffrey Stephaniuk


Dr. Jerome Lejeune as Expert Witness at Trial For Life

August 2, 2008

Expert Witness Testimony

Power Point Presentation on Trial For Life

July 3, 2008


Pasquia Pro-Life Walk for Life Melfort May 25, 2008

June 9, 2008

Fr. Jeffrey and Walk For Life Melfort 2008 participants

Joe Borowski Commemoration Registration form

June 9, 2008

Joe Borowski Commemoration

Friday, September 5 and Saturday, September 6, 2008

Wynyard Civic Centre and Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Church

Registration:  $40.00

Registration: ______ Both days ($40)               ______ (Friday only) $15.00       _____ (Saturday only) $25.00



Phone and e-mail:

Mail (cheques payable to Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Church) to: 

Fr. Jeffrey Stephaniuk  Box 3520 Melfort, Saskatchewan S0E 1A0


Friday, September 5th at 7:30 pm:  Reception at Wynyard Civic Centre (Main Street, Wynyard) with address by Andras Tahn.  Mr Tahn is currently with St. Therese Catholic College in Bruno, Saskatchewan (  In 1983, he spent three weeks as a journalist covering the Trial for Life in Regina. 

Saturday, September 6th

1.  Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Church (415 Ave B E Wynyard 554-2311)  Memorial Service at 9 am.  

2.  Prayers at the graveside of Joe Borowski to follow church service. 

3.  Luncheon at Wynyard Civic Centre at 12 noon.  Guest Speaker:  Mr. Ted Byfield, revered journalist and publisher (

ACCOMMODATIONS: Arrowhead Hotel:  306-554-2507

Thank you for your interest in our commemoration of the late Joe Borowski.  I look forward to seeing you in Wynyard!

Father Jeffrey Stephaniuk  752-3182

Pro-Life Movie Bella

May 6, 2008

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